Now that the Seahawks (10-1) have put some daylight between themselves and the San Francisco 49ers (6-4), Pete Carroll can use the bye week to put his feet up, light a cigar, enjoy a snifter of Courvoisier and send rude text messages to 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh.
OK, that might be a stretch. He doesn’t smoke. But it also may seem a stretch to believe what he said on his Monday morning radio show ESPN 710.
“The really exciting thing, and I hope everyone values this,” he said, “is we can get better.”
Better? Most teams in the NFL would settle for being half as good as the Seahawks right now. Back-to-back seasons of double-digit wins as well as improving health suggest a team in control of its fates.
“We’ve accomplished a lot to get to this point, in some regards,” he said. Then he pooped the party: “In other regards, we haven’t done anything yet.”
Sad but true. Take 10-1 in November, and $5, and it buys you a half-caff, no-whip vanilla vente latte in January. That’s it. Seahawks fans need only consult the franchise’s own modest playoff history. In 2005, the Steelers were 7-5 in November, and went on to prevail over the Seahawks two months later The Game Whose Name Shall Not be Spoken.
More than any sport, weird stuff happens in the late NFL season. Before the Seahawks reach the three-quarters pole, it is possible to appreciate the fact that when Carroll says the Seahawks can get better, he has a track record of proving it. And it’s also possible to appreciate that the Seahawks do need to be better for all five remaining opponents, starting with the New Orleans Saints (8-2) at home and the 49ers in Candlestick Park.
Consider the defense, which had a sag starting with the Sept. 29 game in Houston against the Texans. But over the past four games, and particularly the past two, Carroll made good on his statement that the shortcomings were fixable via tactics, and not the result of a lack of talent or effort.
The last four games the Seahawks have given up 63 points, including a garbage-time touchdown in the 41-20 win over the Minneosta Vikings Sunday. That 15.8 average is about the same as the 2012 season in which they led the NFL in points allowed.
“It was a very, very good game on defense,” Carroll said Monday of the Vikings win. “Gosh, we played really, really well up front. That was real obvious that the last two weeks. We’ve played better than we had earlier.”
Before too much is made about the defensive uptick, only one of the last six opponents has had a winning record when the Seahawks played them (Tennessee, 3-2). And all had at quarterback either a second-stringer (Ryan Fitzpatrick, Kellen Clemens, Mike Glennon) or an under-performing regular (Carson Palmer, Matt Ryan, Christian Ponder).
It’s a remarkable run of wet gunpowder. Then came Sunday with the ground-pounding Vikings and all-world back Adrian Peterson. He had 65 yards rushing in 21 carries a year after he rang up 182 against the Seahawks. But hold on — Peterson said after the game he was injured.
He was held out of practice last week because of a groin injury, then complained that his knee hurt.
“Actually, it was bothering me a lot,” he said. “If I was able to explode like I normally do, I could have got some big chunks. In the second half, I tried to get it to loosen up for me.”
But he didn’t, and the Vikings collapsed. The Seahawks would appear to have been almost as lucky with timing as they have been good with results.
One of former Seahawks coach Chuck Knox’s favorite sayings was,”It’s not who you play, it’s when you play ’em.” As almost always, Knox was right.
After Carolina (7-3) Monday night won its sixth in a row — a 24-20 win over New England eight days after beating the Niners 10-9 — it certainly seems the Seahawks were fortunate to catch the Panthers in the season opener, a 12-7 tooth pull in Charlotte.
Looking ahead beyond the Saints and 49ers, the New York Giants, who host the Seahawks Dec. 15, lost their first six games and now have won four in a row. Could be a bad time to catch up with Eli Manning.
So as good as 10-1 looks at the moment, the Seahawks have no control over the schedule or when other teams grow hot or cold. As Carroll indicated, they can only control getting better themselves.
In that regard, the defensive front, the object of considerable off-season investment and upgrade, seems to be getting the idea. Carroll Monday cited the improved play Sunday of interior linemen Red Bryant and Tony McDaniel in cutting off the run.
“We had great play (from) Tony McDaniel,” he said. “He was really in the backfield. Red played his best game he’s played for us. It was really clear how forceful he was on a number of plays. Those two guys combined really hit the line of scrimmage.
“That means both those guys got better. It’s just another indication that there’s room for improvement. The consistency of their intensity was great. It was really obvious, and it was exactly of what we had hoped for.”
The Seahawks have become better, and can get better. It’s imperative, because Carroll is right: They haven’t done anything.